Thursday, April 28, 2005

April, 2005 Adoption Day for Jamie

            Her name is Jamilet — Jamie. For seven months, she was our foster daughter. We adopted her April 28, and now, she is as much our daughter as Jacob and Liam are our sons, so her days of privacy are over — with a mom who’s a columnist, the best she can hope for in terms of privacy is that her brothers will do newsworthy things more often than she does. In yet another God-incidence (not coincidence) the court-decided adoption date of April 28 was Bill's mother's birthday, and she is also adopted.   
Jamie’s older biological sisters named her, and while Bill and I already have a Jamie as a brother-in-law, a Jamie for a boy cousin and a Jamie for a good (male) friend of the family, we figure we can handle one more. Keeping her name is one way we can honor her family of origin. We hope it will also be one fewer question to answer when she’s older.
            The question I hear the most since the adoption is, “Does it feel different?” I wish I could say it did. I wish that I had some dramatic story to tell about how, at the moment of adoption, everything changed. I never liked those questions on my birthday as a kid, either. “How does it feel to be eight?” an uncle would ask. It didn’t feel any different.
For me, growing to love Jamilet as a daughter began the first day I met her, as a foster daughter. Just as I didn’t know newborn Jacob and Liam, I didn’t know 1-year-old Jamilet. Yet, with all three, I felt an almost instant sense of responsibility and protectiveness. I’m not a fan of babysitting for other people’s children, and one of my fears before I had Jacob, and then again, before I became a foster parent for the first time, would be that I would feel about the child like I did about my friends’ children — fondly, but not passionately. But with both of my biological sons, my two foster daughters, and now, with adopted Jamie, the passion kicked in right away. For me, there was something about knowing I was a child’s mother — whether for a month or for a lifetime — that clicked on a sense of interest and purpose I do not feel for other children. With Jacob and Liam, with my other two foster daughters, and now with Jamie, the passage of time deepens the love. I can’t say I love Jacob more now, at 10, than I loved him when he was 2, but I can say I love him more fully now. Jacob is a more complex person now; there are more aspects to love, and as I discover those aspects, I can more fully know him as God knows him. The same is true for Liam and Jamie. As they grow into who they are, I love them more fully.
In Jamie’s adoption, the court recognized officially what Bill and I had long felt. She is a member of our family. There is a bond here that cannot be broken.
On adoption day, we went to the courthouse with both sets of our parents, Bill’s sister and her family, Jamie’s original foster mother, and my grandmother and uncle. We brought with us a bunch of pink helium balloons, and an enormous, 20-foot long, 3 foot wide pink banner, made by Liam, proclaiming, “Happy Adoption!” in big first grade block letters. He taped it to the front of the judge’s bench.  I got so choked up on the first question (“Please state and spell your name”) that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue. Jamie raced around the courtroom in a pretty white dress and brand new patent leather shoes, excited that everyone she knew was all together in the same room. And after all the questions were answered and the forms were signed, the judge invited the boys up to the bench. They each got to pound the gavel and say, “This adoption is final.”

Finally final. We are so thankful.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

April 2005 We're Center of the Universe, and holding...

For most of their lives, our children will not live with us. If they take the same path Bill and I did, they will fly the coop for college at 18, returning only for summer and winter breaks until they graduate and have their own places. For most of their lives, our children will see their roommates, friends, co-workers, and eventually, their own families, far more hours each week than they will see us. And while I hope that they will call their dad and me when they’re in a tight spot or need help working through a problem, I know that it’s more likely that first, they will turn to each other and their friends.
            But we have them for now. 
            At 10, 6 and 1, our children still see Bill and me as the center of their universe. And we are by no means unique in our high status. Studies repeatedly show that without exception, children look first to their parents as role models.
Yet, looking around me, I am amazed at how willing many parents are to share the stage — to allow their young children’s values to be shaped and shifted by strangers who do not have their children’s best interest in mind. In pockets around me, I see parents too willing to share their precious time that center-of-the-universe spot with the TV, movie theater, computer, GameBoy and MP3 player.
 Parents who wouldn’t think of skipping a babysitter’s reference check have no problem leaving their kids alone with The Bachelor. Parents who hope their children will wait until marriage — or at least adulthood — for sex, nevertheless allow their young children to see sexually suggestive movies and listen to explicit songs. Parents who downplay materialism themselves, yet invite clothes companies and car companies to come into their family room and make a pitch to their children.
            It’s not that I think these parents are bad or purposefully abusive as they expose their children to a radically different value system than that of the Gospel. Instead, I think they have been swindled just as their children are being swindled. They have been convinced that if you can’t speak the language of pop culture, you’ll be left behind. These parents may even believe that media executives are looking out for their children — that a program or commercial can’t be that bad if it’s allowed to be shown during a time slot when kids are watching. Their gut may say not to let their 9-year-old see the PG-13 movie with her friends, but they override their conscience with an exception — just this once. And in doing so, they sell their children’s childhoods, bit by bit.
            Maybe it’s the teacher in me that understands that consistency needs to drive all decisions we make with our children. As an adult, I can see the occasional raunchy movie or watch an eye-candy reality show without it shaping who I am, but that’s because my value system is already set.  A child, repeatedly exposed to advertising, casual sex, materialism and back-talk in the media will need to try some of them on for size. Parents and teachers’ values are suddenly weighed against the glossy and glamorous world of primetime.
            I know I can’t protect my kids forever, but they’re all mine right now. And it’s my responsibility to keep them true to their chronological age. Limiting TV and media exposure is one of the easiest things I can do to make sure they stay young. Six-year-olds and ten-year-olds have no need to be repeatedly told by anyone what brand of shoes to buy. They have no need to see sit-coms where everyone sleeps together by the third date or reality shows with little basis in reality. They don’t even need to hear the flippant back-talk and sassiness of the average cartoon. What they need is for Bill and me to stand guard of our home — to monitor the words and images they are exposed to through the media. 

Our children need for Bill and me to protect our place at the center of their universe, for in protecting that place, we protect them.